Peer Review by jyotsna.r.n (India)

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By: Yellow Sweater

The taproom was full of murmurs. No one was speaking very loudly, but a room full of whispers is still a full room. The soft voices pulled relentlessly at the tattered edges of the silence, unraveling it. It was nice to be around those of less than solid moral grounding. It was reassuring to realize that I was not the only one drinking to forget the moral laws that are a condition of consciousness. I sighed dramatically, caught up in my overwrought lament. I used to have spunk, a virtuous disregard for authority. I had pride, a flair for the dramatic, dignity, and fashion. I delighted in a beautiful game, a chase where the pursued held the power. 

I peered out the window. This planet was more barren than the last, but not a desert. Its surface was covered in light purple shrubbery or maybe it was a fungus. The ground itself was a shade of beige so light it was almost white. It looked like what the walls and cups were made from. The taproom had been my first stop after landing a few hours ago, so I hadn't had much of a chance to explore. Not that I would need to. I was here for a day at the most, doing a job that, knowing  Mendra, would be something best done when thoroughly drunk.

Mendra leaned towards me, whispering “The plant will attempt to harness the fire’s energy, channeling that energy through its underground network, spreading the fire. It depends on how fast they manage to get it under control, but theoretically, we could ignite the whole province of Sen-La-Tee.” He waved a hand in front of my face. “Are you listening?” 

I grinned. “You want me to set the town on fire.” 

The stairs up to my room in the local inn were made of the same hard white-brown clay. They were narrow and steep and led to a circular room designed for a humanoid traveler. The room contained a cot of woven brush, probably made from the same strange plant—as it was purplish in hue—several woven blankets, and a plasticky pillow.  In most places I went, people had an affinity toward materials they could find within  ten miles of their home, materials that didn't have to be dissected, distilled, or fabricated. Though sometimes, as in the case of the pillow, concessions had to be made. The room had a musty smell; deeply earthy, like river water, coarse with minerals or the fleshy innards of a mushroom. It was a smell that made you feel unavoidably alive. 

I instructed my click to wake me up at three, well past the time both moons set. I was still staring mindlessly at the ceiling when I felt my click buzz against my hand. I knew I should savor each moment, but my body wanted to move. If life didn't feel precious, why did I have to treat it as such? I felt a faint spark of my former burning rebel warm my chest. I was going to take these last precious moments running.       

I felt jagged pieces of glass wedge themselves into my knuckles, as my fist shattered the window. The night air was warm and smooth on my mangled wrist. Carrying a burning match, I leaped out the window. I had forgotten how hard the ground and heavy the gravity was on this planet. The white-brown clay was like cement. I ran to the nearest bush, lighting another match, groping for the small flowerlike center that collected the sun’s light. That light was transformed into energy, then channeled to the plant's collective underground network. The fire would overwhelm the system.  

I skidded on the dusty street as I rounded a corner. Out of the darkness, I felt the steady unwavering glow of Mendra’s ship’s floodlight, then I heard Mendra’s cruel laugh and cocky voice. “What was that? Why did you jump out the fucking window?” 

“I like skydiving.” I groaned. “You must understand that I have to get something more than the pittance you’re paying me for risking my life. An adrenaline rush seemed like good compensation.”

“Oh, you’re not getting anything out of this except an early death” I heard his docking bay click shut. 

“Damn it,” I swore. I hadn't expected anything different from an asshole like Mendra. But death is always a hard reality to come to terms with, no matter how much you have prepared for it. I had hurled myself out of plenty of windows, but I hadn’t fallen off the edge of the universe yet. I had forgotten there was an edge. 

The plant was everywhere. It was woven into the planet’s flesh. Because of this, the fire was everywhere. Bushes burst into flame like a deadly game of tag, branching out from the original spark. I stood in an alley, watching the walls grow brighter as the flames approached. They bounced off the blackening clay wall, drenching the alley in suffocating heat. I turned to face the sea of burning heads, ready to run, ready to meet a fiery death halfway. It was a death well-suited to the white-hot flames now burning quite contently in my gut. Then suddenly the only thing burning was me. A torch wrapped in the cool quiet of night. 

My flames weren't flames of anger, flames of hatred, or even flames of power. They were a glorious inferno of irreverence. White-hot lazy pride. Then I realized it wasn't only my insides that were on fire, my pants were burning as well, as were the sleeves of my shirt. I batted them frantically, running to the vague memory of the town well. I yelped. Apparently, the cheap fireproofing I had sprayed on my clothes didn't have a very long warranty. The pain was excruciating as the fire began to char my skin. I saw the half-remembered well in the distance. I whooped as I stripped off my burning clothes and jumped into the watery depths 

Message to Readers

I edited the opening chapter of a sci-fi story I was working on a couple of years ago because I wanted something to submit in time for an expert review. But I would love to write something new for this comp as well (Preferably something that is actually true sci-fi, not just fantasy dressed up with space-ships) I would still love a review though, cause I might just spend the time polishing up its story instead if you guys think its decent (and actually sci-fi)

Peer Review

The voice of the narrator is spot-on! I honestly had so much fun reading their thoughts -- they remind me of Han Solo, but even sassier! The word choice is impeccable as well -- phrases like ' a glorious inferno of irreverence' just roll off the tip of your tongue.

The world building in this piece is subtle, but done well. I love the details about the planet -- the white clay of the ground and the buildings, the strange plant that literally burrows everywhere, the hints about non-human species. I feel like knowing a bit more about the authority figures/ government would help in understanding the narrator's past a bit more. Maybe you could add a few lines about the narrator wondering what would happen if they were caught? Right now, the main themes of sci-fi in the story are exoplanets and alien species, so adding a bit more about the way the government works would be icing on the cake.

The only thing I'd like to know a bit more about is Mendra and the narrator's history , and if they're a sort of space crime gang, but a little mystery is cool too! An elaboration on the government system would also be great, seeing as lawbreaking happens in the story. At certain points, I was confused about the narrator's thoughts, as their didn't seem to fit in with their character, but on the whole, this piece is remarkably cohesive and well-written. Well done!

This story is way more than decent -- it's amazing! I don't think I've ever read such a brilliant draft! I felt it was a sci-fi story through and through . It didn't ever occur to me to categorize it as 'dressed up fantasy'. There were very few edits I could spot-- and even these were minor ones. I'd love to read a part two about the narrator as well!

Reviewer Comments

Reading your story was such a pleasure, and I feel privileged to have gotten the chance to review it. Your writing and command over language is stunning, and I can't wait to read anything else you write!